US GDP Statistics and How to Use Them

The Five GDP Statistics You Need to Know

Gross domestic product measures a country's economic output. There are five GDP statistics that give you the best snapshot of the health of the United States economy. U.S. GDP is the most important economic indicator because it tells you the health of the economy. The U.S. debt to GDP ratio describes whether America produces enough each year to pay off its national debt. U.S. real GDP corrects for changes in prices. The GDP growth rate measures how fast the economy is growing. U.S. real GDP per capita describes the standard of living of Americans.

The table below shows five ways to measure the United States economy.

1. U.S. GDP 

U.S. GDP was $20,411,900 in the second quarter of 2018. What exactly does this mean? The gross domestic product of the United States ran at a rate of $20.412 trillion a year from April through June 2018. This statistic is also known as nominal GDP. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis provides this estimate in the National Income and Product Accounts Interactive Data, Table 1.1.5. Gross Domestic Product.

U.S. GDP is the economic output of the entire country. It includes goods and services produced in the United States, regardless of whether the company is foreign or the person providing the service is a U.S. citizen. To find out the total economic output for all American citizens and companies, regardless of their geographic location, you'd want to look at U.S. gross national product, also known as gross national income.

There are four components of GDP:

  1. Personal Consumption Expenditures: All the goods and services produced for household use. This is almost 70 percent of total GDP.
  2. Business Investment: Goods and services purchased by the private sector.
  3. Government Spending: Includes federal, state and local governments.
  4. Net Exports: The dollar value of total exports minus total imports.

2. Debt to GDP Ratio

The U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio for Q2 2018 is 104 percent. That's the $21.195 trillion U.S. debt as of June 29, 2018, divided by the $20.412 trillion nominal GDP. Bond investors use it to determine whether a country has enough income each year to pay off its debt. 

This debt level is too high. The World Bank says that debt that's greater than 77 percent is past the "tipping point." That's when holders of the nation's debt worry that it won't be repaid. They demand higher interest rates to compensate for the additional risk. When interest rates climb, economic growth slows. That makes it more difficult for the country to repay its debt. The United States has avoided this fate so far because it is one of the strongest economies in the world. 

If you review the national debt by year , you'll see one other time the debt-to-GDP ratio was this high. That was to fund World War II. Following that, it remained safely below 77 percent until the 2008 financial crisis. The combination of lower taxes and higher government spending pushed the debt-to-GDP ratio to unsafe levels. Even though the economy is growing at a healthy 2-3 percent rate, the federal government has not reduced the debt. It keeps spending at an unsustainable level.

3. Real GDP

U.S. real GDP was $18.512 trillion for Q2 2018. This measure takes nominal GDP and strips out the effects of inflation. That's why it's usually lower than nominal GDP. 

It's the best statistic to compare U.S. output year-over-year. That's why the BEA uses it to calculate the GDP growth rate. It's also used to calculate GDP per capita.  The BEA provides this date in the NIPA charts, Table 1.1.6. Real Gross Domestic Product, Chained Dollars.

4. GDP Growth Rate

The current GDP growth rate was 4.2 percent for Q2 2018. This indicator measures the annualized percent increase in economic output since the last quarter. It's the best way to assess U.S. economic growth.   

If you look at U.S. GDP history, you'll see this not a sustainable rate of growth.  The ideal growth rate is between 2-3 percent. Beyond that, the economy could enter a dangerous boom and bust cycle. The outlook for 2018 and beyond is within this healthy range. That could change if the above-average growth continues.

5. GDP per Capita

For Q2 2018, the U.S. real GDP per capita was $56,446. This indicator tells you the economic output by person. It's the best estimate of the standard of living.

To compare the per capita GDP between countries, use purchasing power parity. It levels the playing field between countries. It compares a basket of similar goods, taking out the effects of exchange rates. In 2017, the United States ranked 20th compared to other countries.